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Ford v. New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 23, 2018


         SECTION A



         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Rec. Doc. 9) filed by Defendant New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Plaintiff Henderson Ford opposes the motion. (Rec. Doc. 10). The motion, set for submission on December 13, 2017, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument. Having considered the motion and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Defendant's motion should be DENIED for the reasons set forth below.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Henderson Ford filed this action pro se alleging that Defendant New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (the “Transit Authority”) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Louisiana Civil Rights Act for Persons with Disabilities. (Rec. Doc. 1, p. 1). Ford asserts these claims under federal and state law seeking to recover any relief available including compensatory damages in the form of $50, 000.00 for mental anguish, $50, 000.00 for violating his civil rights under the ADA, $50, 000.00 for violating his civil rights under the Louisiana Civil Rights Act for Persons with Disabilities, past and future medical expenses, court costs, and attorney's fees. Id. at pp. 6-7.

         The following factual allegations, accepted as true, are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint. (Rec. Doc. 1).[1] Ford is a handicapped person. His right leg has been amputated six inches below his knee. This disability requires Ford to use a wheelchair to get around. Ford uses public transportation-notably, buses and streetcars operated by the Transit Authority-to travel around New Orleans. On September 9, 2017, Ford took the St. Claude bus to the Med-Pro Pharmacy on St. Claude Avenue to get his medication. After boarding the bus, the driver failed to properly secure the bus's safety harnesses to Ford's wheelchair. While the bus was moving, the wheelchair started “going up.” Ford was forced to hold onto the bus seat and apply pressure so that the wheelchair would stay grounded. A block before arriving at his destination, Ford's head almost hit the top of the bus. However, two passengers caught Ford before his head could hit the bus ceiling.

         Thereafter, Ford told the bus driver that he would like to make a complaint. The driver got annoyed, but she called her supervisor. Two supervisors arrived on the scene and Ford explained what happened. The two passengers and bus driver also gave their account of the incident. Thereafter, Ford and one of the supervisors “had a few words.” The supervisor told Ford to get off the bus. Ford then told the supervisor to check the camera, and asked the supervisor to call the police and ambulance. However, the supervisor told Ford there was no bleeding and that neither the police nor the ambulance would be called. Ford felt dizzy and ultimately called an ambulance, which took him to the hospital. Upon seeing a doctor, Ford was told his treatment should include observation at home and pain medication such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Advil.

         Ford contends that before and after this incident, he feared getting hurt on the buses and streetcars because drivers failed to properly strap his wheelchair into a safe position. Ford also alleges that the drivers are going too fast and passing up the areas designated as bus stops. By passing the bus stop areas, the buses will sometimes have to park in the street. This causes the buses to stop at a very steep angle, which forces Ford to have to ask fellow passengers or strangers to help him onto the bus because some of the drivers will not help.

         Ford also contends that on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at about 8:30 a.m., he caught the Elysian Fields bus. On that bus, the driver took an overhead safety strap and strapped it to Ford's waist strap. This was the first time any bus driver used the overhead safety strap and Ford did not know the buses were equipped with such a strap until that date. Ford then provides a list of buses he uses every month and alleges to have pictures with the safety straps used to secure him while riding these buses.[2]

         Ford filed the instant Complaint pro se and in forma pauperis on October 5, 2017. No trial date is set at this time. Via the instant motion, the Transit Authority seeks to dismiss Ford's Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The parties' respective arguments are discussed below.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides the vehicle by which a party can challenge a court's subject matter jurisdiction to hear a particular issue. In general, where subject matter jurisdiction is being challenged under Rule 12(b)(1), the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes to satisfy itself that it has power to hear the case. Montez v. Dep't of Navy, 392 F.3d 147, 149 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731 (1947)). No presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff's allegations and the court can decide disputed issues of material fact in order to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear the case. Id. However, where issues of fact are central both to subject matter jurisdiction and the claim on the merits, the trial court must assume jurisdiction and proceed to the merits of plaintiff's case under either Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56. Id. (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         Under well-settled standards governing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, a claim may not be dismissed unless it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts that would entitle him to legal relief. In re Supreme Beef Processors, Inc., 468 F.3d 248, 251 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Benton v. United States, 960 F.2d 19 (5th Cir. 1992)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 2009). But the Court is not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A legally sufficient complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. If there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculation level, or if ...

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